97 Years: What A Nerve
Give it up for Bev
I can’t spend too long on this one, just got to my folks’ house upstate and the family is starting to roll in one by one. While being anti-social on my computer is kind of a holiday staple around here, my 97 year old grandmother Beverly is ambling in as I type this, and every moment I am on my computer is a moment she will find reasons to guilt me for over dinner in a few hours.
We don’t call it Jewish Guilt around our family though, or at least not to her face. To Beverly, it’s just nerve. “What a nerve!” could be proclaimed towards anyone or anything, and will likely be proclaimed to me when I tell her the reason I was late to welcome her was because I was writing about her on the internet.
Still, the woman is whip sharp for someone coming up on a century of existence, waking up every day from the Hoover Administration until now has to be an absolutely trip. Her memory is something she saw a number of her friends and family loose at one point or another, but there’s Bev, still able to tell you about the shape and size of a particular handbag she loved from the 1960’s.
I won’t get all deeply biographical because I hear her making the rounds and I really need to get down there, but here’s the short version: Born in the 1920s to a hyper Jewish family (everyone Jewish was kind of hyper Jewish back then, being “reform” wouldn’t really come to mean what it currently mean until the 1970s) in Brooklyn, took care of her small army of older brothers after her mother got gravely ill when she was a teenager, ran away when she was 18 or 19 to marry my grandfather, and raised my mother and uncle in Canarsie.
Once the kids were out of the picture, my grandfather started losing his vision. Could have been from not wearing his service sunglasses on his WWII navy ship, could have just been a fluke thing. Either way, my grandmother went from taking care of her siblings to taking care of her kids to taking care of her husband, an emotionally volatile man who did not like the idea of having his independence slowly fade to black in his 50s.
Still, Bev created touch-sensitive labels for his clothes so he could still dress himself, she marked his bills so he could still be quick with a tip, and she drove him everywhere until the day he died (and then continued driving herself around up until about 5 years ago).
By the time my grandfather died, they had left Brooklyn for Fort Lauderdale, and my grandmother adjusted to life on her own for the first time in her life. You’d think this would be terrifying, but if you ask her about it, there’s a good chance these were the actual best years of her life. No attachments, no need to take care of anyone but herself. Men would call for her, she wasn’t interested. If she wanted to play bridge or go to the casino she would, if she wanted to read a book and sit by the pool all day, she would. She was in her bliss through all her 80s and into her 90s.
When the pandemic started, her age and the shape of things made it pretty apparent she needed to be closer to family. We moved her back to NY to be closer to everyone, though to her credit she’s still mostly unassisted in her assisted living facility (she keeps firing aides for having, you guessed it, nerve).
Beverly is still quick to tell you when she’s uncomfortable, pissed off, or disappointed (she is also quick to communicate this information to service staff who do not operate at her intellectual level). She can also be wise, kind, and hilarious. She’s all of those things, most of the time! She’s been warning us that this could be her last holiday, birthday, or meal since she was about 80 or so, meaning for almost half my life this woman who I love dearly has been reminding us how precious little time she feels she has left.
So with that, I have a million more things I could say about this woman. One day I’ll tell you about the time she wrenched an ill-advised piercing out of my ear, or her bitch of a sister in a law who stole her mother’s wedding ring off her cold dead hand. Bev saw some crazy stuff.
But time is precious with folks who have seen that much of it, so I’m going to go get some of that with her now.
Enjoy dinner, back when the booze and tryptophan hit!